Tuesday, January 17, 2012 • 4:09 AM Comments (7)

What Do Feminist Preschoolers' Mothers Wear? The Should-We-Care Installment

posted by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sure, there’s a little jest implied to my little series’ titles: What Do Feminist Toddlers Wear and What Do Feminist Preschoolers Wear? Obviously, I can’t determine how my children eventually define feminism, or whether they decide they are—eventually—feminists.

What I can do is make decisions like whether I allow or disallow a boy of mine wear a dress or a construction hat or whether a girl keeps a commercialized character’s bathing suit of the princess-y persuasion. But when I think about what I hope my kids learn about feminism, clothes are not at the heart of anything; the message I’d like my kids take in is about equality and the ability to determine one’s path—and the notion that women are just as capable and free in this regard as men—or at least, should be. Sure, the adults have got the whole 77 cents on the dollar problem and reproductive justice for all and a few other niggling issues to clear up first.

(I let her wear it for two days around the house before I got rid of it).

There’s also this interesting, seemingly “soft” and highly politically charged thing: appearance and fashion, beauty and style. Women’s appearance—beauty pageants, the dollars made by models, the industry that is all about diet and the incredible amount spent on things like plastic surgery and a bunch more “beauty” is, from resources allocated standpoint—big business, and much more of a social imperative for women than for men. Often, the kinds of appearance-related attentions are not a boon to females’ health (physical, emotional, or fiscal). Anyone with a little girl can tell you that girls’ clothing encourages comment—so often girls’ clothing is frilly, cutesy, sparkly stuff. To see how that pink beginning unfolds, as girls become women—to a given that looks are of paramount importance isn’t at all surprising. Females are groomed to this; to fight it becomes a bigger endeavor than simply wearing sweatpants. Even tomboys can claim style. Yet, to make a stark pronouncement about appearance and all its components being completely unimportant does not inherently embrace a “more feminist” stance.

Feeling comfortable in one’s own self—healthy body, healthy self-esteem—that’s a human pleasure. That’s something to strive towards. Parents attempt to instill self-esteem into our children, so that they can walk into adulthood easy in their skins, bodies and even clothing.

And this throws me, a casual—bordering on worse than casual—writer, mama and woman in her late forties, into a mini-quandary. Is how I put or don’t put effort into appearance just another thing I must do “right” for my children’s sakes? Must I model a better, maybe even blog-worthy style?


Before you think I’ve got any answers forthcoming here, I’ll stop you. I don’t. So far, I can say this: I’ve upped my style thusly, through some new t-shirts and making a more regular commitment to doing yoga, receiving bodywork and getting more sleep. I’m becoming devoted to this much of a beauty routine: to slathering my body in oil rather than lotion, and putting lotion on my face each night. I love my electric toothbrush and my dental floss. I eschewed dying my hair a long ways back now and embrace that (and cut my own hair, ‘cause everyone needs a little DIY badass to boot).

My friend Lauren is blogging about what she wears, though, and she makes a great point: she asserts that feeling good about oneself is a part of embracing one’s feminism. She’s got me thinking. She’s got me reading. She’s got me seeing my own love of other blogs anew, and considering that like with everything else there is a balance where style—on one’s person or in one’s home or even more specifically clothing or kitchen or décor—is almost celebratory of a life being lived with pleasing gusto. Finding the playful, peaceful, happy in such things makes our lives more playful, peaceful and happy, too, even perhaps, more whole. Why leave all that to the anti-feminists, right?

I may even need another series: What Do Feminist Preschoolers’ Mothers Wear?

Comments (7)
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What a wonderful piece, Sarah! I think you hit the nail on the head by including the ways you are treating your body so well and in noting the focus on "finding the playful, peaceful, happy." Much love and joyful self-care to you. xo, Lauren

Posted by L@stylemammal on 1.17.12 at 6:36

I often wonder about this as my daughters watch me putting on makeup. I wear makeup almost every day because it makes me feel beautiful and confident and because, quite simply, I like the way it looks. At the same time, I'm very clear with my girls when they ask about it or say they want to wear makeup that a.) Makeup isn't for kids, and when they're teenagers they can wear it if they want and b.) they don't *have* to wear makeup to be or feel pretty. Some women don't wear it at all. It's entirely up to them.

I still feel conflicted about it sometimes -- am I setting a bad example by appearing vain? -- but I grew up watching my mom wear makeup, and I consider my life much more in line with the sort of mainstream feminist model: I'm in a much more egalitarian and healthy marriage and I have a satisfying career. Things she doesn't have, and has always regretted on some level.

Hmm. Methinks a blog post is in order. Thanks for the inspiration!

Posted by Jane roper on 1.17.12 at 7:31

Great post, Sarah. I do often wonder what Audrey garners from my fairly casual work at home wear. I seem to be in the middle between you and commenter Jane: I dye my hair (at the salon, even!) but wear makeup sporadically. Certainly on a night out, but I am rubbish at hairstyles and often opt for pigtails. I do try to not look completely slovenly, and I wear dresses in the summer. I try to tell her that dresses are great because it's like wearing *no pants at all!* but you know her, she is having none of it. (they are too fancy).

So, I think what you have said in the beginning is the right track: feminisim is choosing how you are. We can make choices about how we look, as smart and aware people and knowing social biases, media influence, etc. Now if you'll excuse me, I must adjust my designer glasses to more properly gaze upon my pedicured toes (sparkle red for the winter).

Posted by Tracitalynne on 1.17.12 at 10:47

Says something about me that I zeroed in on jsut one sentence in this long and thoughtful piece: YOU CUT YOUR OWN HAIR. That's fascinating.

Posted by jzzy55 on 1.17.12 at 11:12

It's tough. I tend to feel better about myself when I'm a little styled. But that just means tinted moisturizer, a little mascara and lip gloss. It's a 3-minute routine. I don't always brush my hair (it has that beach-windblown look!). When I'm getting ready in the morning, I ask myself "am I doing this for me? or for other people?" If I'm getting made up for myself, it tends to feel good. If I'm just doing it to impress others, I don't feel as good about it and walk away from the mirror.

Side note: I grew up with a mother who was severely, severely depressed, and one marker of her mood was how she dressed and whether she bothered with showering. Thankfully, I didn't inherit the depression, but I do hold the memory association....I feel lighter, more optimistic and more ready to tackle daily challenges after a shower and a little makeup :)

I think you're right in focusing on the feelings associated with appearance rather than on appearance alone.

Posted by gina on 1.17.12 at 11:43

I made the decision, several years ago, to find out what I really look like after having colored my hair for over 20 years! I have the great fortune of having a husband who was concerned that I was putting artificial chemicals all over my head just to keep myself looking younger, like many of us women seem to aspire to do. He encouraged me to stop, and was fine about having his younger wife have gray hair when he has hardly none and is 8 years my senior! So, I did it, and during the growing out process, I was met with this comment from my then 86 year old mother, "I know what you're doing, and I don't like it! You can't do this until I'm gone." Need I say that my now almost 90 year old mother still colors her hair! I'm glad for her because doing so makes her feel happy and beautiful. Am I happy that I did this? YES! It was a big and exciting step for me, and I'm glad to finally see what I really look like, and I love it! What has surprised me in these years is the reaction from the public. I have been given senior discounts when I never mentioned being a senior. Yes, I happily took the discounts. One year, a former student of mine was visiting me in my classroom when a woman came in to say hello to this student. The woman asked if I was his grandmother! He replied with shock in his voice, "No! She was my kindergarten teacher!" Where am I going with all of this? I think I've learned how quick we are to judge others by their appearance, and gray is judged as old! That I am not, only being in my 50's, able to keep up with 5 and 6 years olds with whom I teach, and spend long hours working beyond the 2:45 dismissal. I am happy to be authentically me! Good for you for whatever you choose to do! Right on, baby!

Posted by Hooray for gray! Free to be you and me! on 1.18.12 at 18:15

When my daughter Alice was about 3 she only wanted to wear her pink clothes. So we decided to only dress her in pink and then the phase went away. She has never been a pinky girly girl since. Although given the choice because she has no school uniform anymore, I find she wears skirts as much or even more than pants. It is all interesting. I think clothes can be fun. And I hate when people say, she is too old to wear that. But I think they shouldn't take up too much time in our lives, not the shopping for it nor the thinking about it because there are so many more interesting things to think about.

I have gotten into lipstick in the past year or so and wear it a lot. I'm not scared of make up or a slave to it but I like how it looks on me when I use it. I love your natural look Sarah. It really suits you.

Have you read Nora Ephron's neck book. She says something interesting about hair dye in that. xxx

Posted by Emily Marbach on 1.19.12 at 10:06



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